There are many reasons we’ll remember 2020 as a historic year. The rapid adoption of remote work may stand out among the most important, economically. The rise of a more remote workforce led to leaders rethinking everything from successful teams to the value of commercial real estate.
As companies learned to adapt to these changes, many have decided to make remote work permanent. However, long-term or permanent remote teams have much different challenges than short-term teams. To work successfully, companies must plan for long-term remote work in advance and remain flexible to shifting responsibilities and new collaborators. Moreover, companies must account for a more diverse team, one that will cover a variety of work styles, languages, and experience levels.
It’s up to managers and employees alike to work effectively as a remote team.
Overcommunicate to smooth language barriers
One of the benefits of a remote team is that it allows a company to tap into specialized talent far across the world. Unfortunately, multinational collaboration can often bring language or other cultural barriers to the forefront.
On a personal level, as a native Russian speaker living in a Dutch-speaking country who collaborates daily with English-speaking colleagues, I ask my team to communicate constantly to ensure greater understanding, even when not everyone may use the grammatically correct phrasing syntax.
To do this, we rely heavily on visual communication. We build vision boards for our ideas, wireframe mock-ups of product improvements, or diagram workflow charts to share with everyone. More visual communication shortens collaboration cycles by reducing the need for prolonged back-and-forth conversations, which prove especially bothersome when with time differences.
In modern conference rooms, whiteboards play a large role in helping with visual communication, but most remote teams still lack the capabilities to convey ideas through means other than text. This needs to change to help sustain innovation among remote teams in the long term.
Embrace flexibility to work across time zones
Another challenge of working as a remote team is collaboration across vastly different time zones. For instance, I’m regularly collaborating with teammates and colleagues separated by a time gap of 9-12 hours.
We overcome this by embracing flexible work hours and assessing our team by results — not time spent with “butts in seats.” Sometimes our employees need to start work very early in the morning to meet with customers or colleagues on the other side of the world. Other times, they may work late to finish a design or engineering sprint.
By putting trust in the team and giving them the flexibility to work nontraditional hours, we can more effectively manage a remote team.
Unlocking the power of four generations
We’re at an interesting juncture in time when four generations are working together every day. Generation Z, millennials, generation X, and baby boomers work side by side in many companies. When individuals who entered the workforce before email can collaborate smoothly with those who were raised on memes and selfies, your business can bring more widely appealing products to market, craft compelling marketing campaigns to touch millions, and win love for your brand across the generational spectrum.
There are a multitude of steps that can be taken to help multigenerational teams work together effectively. Virtual mentorship sessions — including reverse mentorships, where a less experienced employee mentors a more senior one — can help expose team members to different perspectives. Employee resource groups (ERGs) and affiliation groups are another way to connect people across generations, highlighting the strengths of each. These options can all be executed remotely as much as in person.
At our company we’ve built and are continuing to refine a program around “onboarding support groups,” a remote program specifically aimed at new employees. These groups are made of cohorts of new employees who meet once a week and support each other during the onboarding process. In this way, younger and older employees get to know each other when they’re the most vulnerable (when they’re new to the firm) and see that everyone, regardless of age, has helpful experience to bring to the table.
Lately, as work from home extends into the summer, we’ve been putting additional emphasis on these onboarding groups to ensure new employees feel extra secure having never met their teammates in-person.
With remote work, we have a phenomenal ability to make our workplaces more inclusive, flexible, and diverse than ever before. It’s important to remember that with remote teams, we shouldn’t recreate old management practices from the physical office. Instead, we should strive to build a culture that adapts and flourishes from change.
While COVID-19 has caused still indeterminable damage to the world, the changes this pandemic brings to our work habits may have true lasting power and prove beneficial to our workers in the long term.